Arnold Kling  

Group Status and Liberty

Greek by 2030... Marxism as a Senile Industry...

David Boaz wrote,

we'd better stop talking as if we think the straight white male perspective is the only one that matters. For the past 70 years or so conservatives have opposed the demands for equal respect and equal rights by Jews, blacks, women, and gay people. Libertarians have not opposed those appeals for freedom, but too often we (or our forebears) paid too little attention to them. And one of the ways we do that is by saying "Americans used to be free, but now we're not"--which is a historical argument that doesn't ring true to an awful lot of Jewish, black, female, and gay Americans.

Jacob Hornberger responds.

Let's consider, say, the year 1880.... no income tax... few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws...

Will Wilkinson retorts.

women in 1880 had almost no meaningful rights to political participation, ensuring that they were unable to demand recognition and protection of their basic liberty rights through the political system.

Slavery was gone in 1880, but systematic state-enforced racial apartheid was going strong. The economic and political rights of blacks were severely curtailed under the various antebellum state Black Codes and then under the Jim Crow laws.

I would rather live with the group-status configurations that we have today than with those that prevailed in 1880. For that matter, I would rather live with the plumbing and dentistry that we have today than that which prevailed in 1880. But it's a swindle to suggest that if we had a libertarian polity we would be back in the days of Jim Crow or women's subservience. Just as it is a swindle to suggest that if we had a libertarian polity we would be back to using outhouses and having our teeth pulled without anesthetic.

If what you really, really care about are group-status issues, and you really, really think that those battles should be fought politically rather than culturally, and if you are really, really scared of where you think some older Americans stand on those group-status issues, then you can end up where Will Wilkinson is--deeply frightened of the Tea Party movement in spite of its libertarian focus. In that case, your plan is to slip something into the ruling intellectuals' drink to make them amenable to your free-market seductions.

Good luck with that.

[UPDATE: Will and I look like two idiots feuding. I apologize for my share of the idiocy, which could be anywhere up to 100 percent.]

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (23 to date)
Doc Merlin writes:

Will is simply wrong. Unlike the Dem and Republican parties the tea party movement has similar racial makeup the the US as a whole. Apparently he has been listening to the leftist's talking points, because in fact the tea party isn't just a bunch of "white men."

Tea party demographics is fairly representative of the US as a whole. Here is Gallup's poll of tea party demographics.

David C writes:

"if you are really, really scared of where you think some older Americans stand on those group-status issues"

I think you should look at some of OKCupid's graphs again. There's a winding trend from the young being distinctly libertarian to the old being distinctly authoritation. I'm not just scared of where the elderly stand on group-status issues. I'm scared of where the elderly stand on most issues. To me, the Tea Party and the Republican Party have become one and the same. They are now a party that trends from moderate to authoritarian. The Tea Party seems more like the authoritarian half. The Democratic Party is now a party that trends from moderate to libertarian.

Doc Merlin writes:

I mean he is wrong about the tea party, not wrong about there being no "golden age for lost liberty" liberties have always been infringed, its up to us to peel back infringement.

Arnold Kling writes:

David C,
If you think that people tend to be authoritarian as they get older, then we're all hosed. Every country is aging quite rapidly.

I don't look at young Obamanauts and see anti-authoritarians. Instead, I see naive supporters of technocratic power.

JPIrving writes:

I will take the economic liberty and let the chips fall where they may. Despite outright sabotage Jews managed to navigate the mostly free market U.S. and become the most successful ethnic group by...I dont know..1940...1960?

Blacks were building their way up too and their progress only stalled when LBJ took such pains to help them.

This chap should read some Thomas Sowell.

Free markets reward unbiased logic, why cant people understand that there is no greater enemy to racial or sexual bias than free markets?

I love this quote:

"Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green; all else is necessarily subservient to it, hence, race, gender and ethnicity cannot be considered within it. " Sowell

Contemplationist writes:

This is getting tiring.
Will Wilkinson has been cognitively captured by lefty fairy tales due to his yearning for a 'liberaltarian' alliance. He is unable to see the massive authoritarian impulses lurking everywhere in the Progressive movement from control of health, wealth, food we eat, speech codes, etc.

He has fallen for completely stupid, fatuous and demonstrably untrue talking points on the Tea parties which were started by Libertarian party members back when Bush was pushing the Wall Street bailouts. What exactly is his problem with the ethos/culture of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers?

I see ZERO chances after the death of Bill Clinton New Democrats of progressives willing to embrace markets. They were literally making socialist arguments during health care debate like elimination of "marketing, CEO salaries" as saving money. This BS is literally a socialist argument from the 30s on overhead.

Andy writes:

I'm not sure how Dr. Kling is getting from Will's post to "Will hates the Tea Party!"
I don't read Will closely enough to know if he hates the Tea Party - he might. But the post that Dr. Kling is quoting really doesn't have anythign to do with that.

Will's point is simply "there is no golden age." If there is going to be a golden age of liberty, WE NEED TO MAKE ONE HAPPEN!!!

Dr. Kling, I enjoy your writing, I am reading your widely unread book, but here sir, I think you are in the wrong.

Please note that Will responds here :

bjk writes:

This is reminiscent of the Sotomayor vs. white Senators debate. When politics becomes a battle for ethnic spoils, then the libertarians become just another ethnic interest group, in this case white men.

James writes:

If you think that the ending of that status quo for group politics, the inclusion of women and minorities, is coincidental with the death of liberty and the socialist state, then I suggest you ponder further.

David C writes:

"If you think that people tend to be authoritarian as they get older, then we're all hosed. Every country is aging quite rapidly."

I never made that claim. I think the elderly in America today grew up in a society less tolerant of different views, and that's the reason they're more authoritarian. So the state of thinking when you're young strongly influences your beliefs today. Look at popular Presidents from different eras. Who's more authoritarian? Clinton and Reagan or Eisenhower and Roosevelt?

As Matthew Yglesias recently argued, found this via Robin Hanson, I think group-status has a lot to do with shaping the way people think.

The group-status of the young in politics has a lot to do with avoiding George W Bush. And George W Bush was very authoritarian.

As for Obama, that's a different argument, but I'm guessing when 2016 rolls around and CATO adds up the growth rate of federal government spending, Obama will rank near the bottom of modern Presidents.

James writes:

If you think that the ending of that status quo for group politics, the inclusion of women and minorities, is coincidental with the death of liberty and the socialist state, then I suggest you ponder further.

Nico writes:

I think what you're saying here doesn't really make sense- check out Will's reply. No one is saying we'd be back to the social situation in 1880 if we had more libertarian policies- certainly not Will. He's saying many aspects of the society then were far from libertarian.

I could definitely be wrong here, because I don't know that much about them, but so far I haven't seen much reassuring in the tea partiers. It would be good to have divided government, so in that sense I support them, but do you really think that,if they totally had their way, we'd be better off? Based on past experience, isn't it safe to say that, with Republicans, libertarian ideas fly out the window the moment they get in power (not to mention the militarism, social conservatism, and other not-very-libertarian stances)? It seems like many people support small government only in the abstract- and I suspect that many tea partiers are like that. Plus, where were they during the Bush years?

Chris Koresko writes:

@Arnold: Nice post.

@Nico and David C, I don't see the Tea Parties as a political party. They're more like a policy advocacy movement, though one without a central organization (for now at least). They are mostly pushing for smaller and less spendthrift government. To say that they are identical with the Republicans is implausible, especially since one of the few scenarios that denies Republicans big gains in the 2010 elections would be competition from TP candidates; in fact, such competition has already cost the Republicans a seat in Congress. It is true that some big-name Republicans (especially Palin) are wooing them. It is also true that Nancy Pelosi has been making overtures, laughable as that sounds.

Incidentally, the only person I know who attended one is non-white and female. She was impressed by how thoughtful and polite the people there were. Small sample, I admit.

Doc Merlin writes:

"They were literally making socialist arguments during health care debate like elimination of "marketing, CEO salaries" as saving money. This BS is literally a socialist argument from the 30s on overhead."

Agreed. And in the days ahead you will see more of it as the socialists gain the confidence they lost during the fall of the soviet union. Its an argument that a lot of people buy into, as well, and an extra dangerous one, because the profit motive is one of the main forces that allows us to become more efficient.

Contemplationist writes:

@Doc Merlin

Indeed. I've noticed that since the death of Milton Friedman this kind of socialist sophistry is back in fashion among the mainstream left. Its like they all sighed in collective relief that they did not have to defend their false views and backtrack anymore. They could simply push against the corrupt big government Bush administration as a symbol of "laissez faire deregulation" and ride the wave. Too bad for them its failed.

Allan Walstad writes:

Boaz gives an antidote to over-pessimism, but Hornberger is right too. The more of our economic output that is taken coercively and allocated politically, the less free we are.

Eric H writes:

It's difficult for me to hold on to the idea that we could ever have a "libertarian polity," but it is even more difficult for me to comprehend what business libertarians have predicting what any future societies might look like, especially societies with foundations of individual liberty.

A central premise of libertarian political economy is that the emergent order is too complex to be effectively understood by individuals or groups. And yet libertarian political economists are claiming to understand past and potential iterations of the emergent order enough to make categorical statements about it.

Missing so far from the discussion is the idea that, however perverse it may sound to our finely honed, 21st century sensibilities, some slaves might have considered their situation "just" or to be expected given their circumstances, just as some women might have considered their 2nd class status a natural consequence of millenia of bible-based social theorizing and planning.

Doc Merlin writes:


We need to continue carrying the attack at the basics and fundamentals of socialism. Friedman, Hayek et al helped the fight against socialism, but the foundations of socialism never ever actually go away. The collectivist impulse and collectivist arguments don't really ever go away. For example: some socialists are now mis-interpreting Elinor Ostrom to try to say that private property is unnecessary.

The_Orlonater writes:

I'd like to suggest that we libertarians should stop using mass political democratic movements as a sign of libertarian tradition or advancement of the individual's rights. Take for example the women's suffrage movement in the late 19th century. Most of the active participants were ardent prohibitionists and pietist-millenialist types that wanted to impose their worldview on others through the State by democratic means. We should remember that our political philosophy is based on voluntarism, property rights, and rights of the individual; not of a popular group of individuals using force on another group. And also, I'm sure many of you are familiar with the public choice problems of mass political democracy.

Contemplationist writes:


I think you're being, no offense, delusional if you think libertarians do not recognize public choice problems. No other ideological group pays more attention to, and uses public choice arguments than libertarians. Infact public choice, combined with cutting-edge ideas like Bryan Caplan's "Rational Irrationality" construct an extremely sophisticated libertarian understanding of democracy.
Though I will agree that as hunter-gatherer gene-carriers, we are all prone to politicking for primal factors and become unconstrained by our rational knowledge of public choice. This is Patri Friedman's idea.

kevin writes:

Seconding what Nico said above, Will isn't meaning to imply that a libertarian polity would set back the clock on rights for women and blacks. Rather, he is arguing that there was never a golden age of liberty, and that on net people are freer than ever before in the USA.

Actually I would argue that we're less free than we were in the late 1990s, but freer than we were in the 1950s.

Contemplationist writes:

I agree with kevin. On net, taking all the above concerns, 1995 - 2001 (before 9/11) were probably the most free

Karl Gallagher writes:

The federal government may have more power over me now than it would have in 1880 . . . but that's not the only constraint on freedom. Mayors and sheriffs used to have a lot more freedom to bully their constituents without anyone else hearing or caring. I can practice an oddball religion now without my neighbors lynching me as a witch. I can even take time to explore my hobbies instead of working the whole day long to keep food on the table. That's all a lot more important to me than the Feds knowing how much I make in a year.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top